I'm reading a book, and I'm constantly seeing the name 'Chairman' appear to describe the head of an Academy that students of all grades can attend. An "Elevator School" if you will. The problem I face, is that to me, in English, a Chairman is someone who deals with businesses, not Academics.

I can potentially see alternate uses such as 'Director,' or even 'Principal,' but I'm not certain which one would be more correct?

I tried to do some research through Google, but I couldn't find any one place that solidified the titles of Academic places, as it seemed more to be a "What sounds more important? Let's use that." sort of deal.

In the UK I've heard that Charter Schools call them 'Chairman,' but in the United States I've heard 'Dean' or 'Headmaster.' What is the difference?

EDIT: This is a Semi-Private School, basically, for students from Primary through to Graduation, but not including University/College. It does include Student Dormitories as well. Thanks!

  • What kind of “academy” do you mean? The word is rather restricted these days. If you mean primary or secondary schools in public education, it is principal in the US and headmaster/mistress in the UK. If you mean the head of an entire university, then it is the chancellor in the States. A dean in public universities is lower than a chancellor, but still lofty enough. However, in places like the Naval Academy, the highest position is that of superintendent, although they, too, also seem to have deans. Superintendents also occur in public school systems.
    – tchrist
    Apr 22, 2014 at 13:46
  • Ahh, oops. I suppose I should have mentioned... It's one of those 'All encompassing' schools that go from Primary to Senior... I'll amend my question.
    – GC_Cryss
    Apr 22, 2014 at 13:53
  • Oh, you mean K–12 in one school?
    – tchrist
    Apr 22, 2014 at 13:55
  • Yes, the very same!
    – GC_Cryss
    Apr 22, 2014 at 13:56
  • tchrist, the word in the UK is usually headteacher dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/… Headmaster for a male head teacher and headmistress for a female head teacher, are dated and less common words.
    – Tristan r
    Apr 22, 2014 at 14:12

3 Answers 3


Consider the terms "head of school" or "headmaster/headmistress" for the person in charge of a US private or semi private institution or academy.

  • I wish I could vote up your answer, as it is useful for US Specific variation of this.
    – GC_Cryss
    Apr 22, 2014 at 18:56

Schools typically have an administrative head, what in a business would be the Chief Executive Officer or Chief Operation Officer: in US universities this head usually has the title President or Chancellor. In US primary and secondary schools, the usual title is Principal.

But as in large businesses, this academic head is ultimately responsible to a board, whose members are called Directors or Trustees or Governors or Overseers or any number of other titles. The person who presides over this board when it meets is usually the Chairman.

  • According to my bilingual dictionaries and AmE dictionaries only, "principal" only applies to refer to a person in charge of a public primary or secondary school. The appropriate term for a person in charge of a parochial or private primary or secondary school is "headmaster/headmistress," or simply "head." Do you validate those assertions?
    – Elian
    Apr 22, 2014 at 15:51
  • 2
    @NourishedGourmet No, it's not so cut-and-dried. The parish schools my son attended were headed by Principals. The Jesuit private school my brothers in law attended has a Principal as head of the academic side and a President, a Jesuit priest, as head of the administrative side (note that it also has a Board of Trustees with a Chairman, but that is basically an organization for parents and alumni - the Jesuit order is the owner and ultimate authority). The private Catholic school my wife attended is actually three Schools (Elementary, Middle and High), each with its own academic Principal ... Apr 22, 2014 at 17:56
  • ...and a President in charge of overall administration. And the secular private school where I was for a while a guest stage director is run by a Head of School. It is generally true that the 'tonier' the school the more likely it is to employ 'Head' or 'Headmaster/Headmistress', probably in emulation of English public schools. Apr 22, 2014 at 17:58
  • It may be a regional thing. In France, we refer to a person in charge of a public elementary school as "directeur/directrice," to the one in charge of a public junior high as "principal," and to the person in charge of a public middle or senior high as "proviseur." On the other hand, a private school head is referred to as "directeur/directrice" in both primary and secondary schools.
    – Elian
    Apr 22, 2014 at 18:35
  • I also wish I could up-vote some of these responses, as they're also very helpful. -- I really appreciated the both of you discussing this a bit, even though it technically isn't allowed by the rules here. I believe that was my fault for asking such an open question. The book I was reading was European, and I think my stigma is that I'm used of the word 'Principal' being used for more Public schools than a more professional sounding word. Thank you all very much!
    – GC_Cryss
    Apr 22, 2014 at 18:58

We usually use principal for this in the US.

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